If learning extends to the world beyond the classroom, it is sad to see that certain stereotypes endure when Americans pursue their studies abroad. As a Moroccan student at Bowdoin, I was deeply dismayed in realizing the persistence of American misconceptions about the Middle East so patent in Sam Frizell's Talk of the Quad piece "The far side of the strait" (February 17). Our study abroad experience represents a unique opportunity for us to look beyond generalizations about a certain community and culture.

I admit that cat-calling is rampant in Morocco, as in many countries with an embedded macho culture. I can attest to the fact that walking alone in my hometown, Marrakech, with the probing eyes of men making me feel naked, is never a simple affair. It may be worse for U.S. students, though as someone who speaks the Moroccan dialect, I have always found it hard to just walk away rather than respond to the mellifluous Arabic remarks. Today, I feign deafness because changing the patriarchal culture is not so easy.

Nor is it so easy to discard this perpetuated us-versus-them stereotype. Despite the extensive media coverage of the Arab Spring this past year and the commentary of foreign journalists about the Middle East, Americans and Arabs seldom know much about each other.

What I found most disturbing about Frizell's article was not the transcription of flawed perceptions of Morocco, but the way in which it pushes one to complacently identify the Western culture as rational and valid, while "a woman wearing a burqa...covered in deep black," represents an absolute menace prowling in the Moroccan world.

Unfortunately, I think that this woman was not the only one veiled that day. When will we lift this mask of stereotypes? Why regard this woman "covered in deep black" as personifying the plight of Muslim women in a "prison"? American visualization of the Muslim world clings to the divisive ideology of Hollywood movies like "Aladdin."

Just as Princess Jasmine is locked up in her palace, this woman is portrayed as trapped under her burqa. Why must the various forms of clothing worn by Muslim women be interpreted as symptomatic of the misogynistic nature of Islam from the Dark Ages? As my grandmother persistently reminds me, the veil "is an estimable act of modesty."

Religion is by nature open to interpretation, with some views as narrow as "the little alleys" of the old city in Rabat, and other views enhanced by personal choice and enrichment. One of my closest friends from school proudly wears the veil and it has not stopped her from pursuing a career in medicine. Reverting to a shallow perception of two worlds colliding does nothing to embrace—or at least respect—human difference.

When I left Morocco for Maine at the end of August 2008, my father said, "Do re-examine your reasoning out there, but never forget where you come from." I think this piece of advice also applies to American students going abroad. Our liberal arts education entails that we should broaden our horizons, probe into viable prospects for the future, and examine possibilities of dynamic alliances between communities in order to dissolve this na‹ve opposition between East and West. To speak of an immutable "distance between West and East, Europe and the Middle East, Christianity and Islam" on the far side of the strait is to overlook centuries of artistic, economic and cultural contact in the Mediterranean.

The raging Arab revolutions underscore the need to debunk this alien vision of the Middle East and tease out further nuance and complexity. Because, in the end, people near and far aspire to live in dignity.

Salma Berrada is a member of the Class of 2012.